The University of California Board of Regents has agreed to pay $1.2 million to resolve a whistleblower lawsuit alleging inadequate supervision in the use of anesthesia at UC Irvine Medical Center, an attorney said Wednesday.
The agreement to pay the fines follows a multiyear U.S. Justice Department investigation triggered by a 2008 lawsuit by Dr. Dennis O'Connor, an anesthesiologist and former UCI professor.
The suit alleged that, in violation of federal regulations, anesthesia was routinely administered at UCI by nurse anesthetists or residents when there was no supervisory anesthesiologist present, according to a statement by Louis J. Cohen, an Agoura Hills attorney who represents O'Connor.
The complaint further alleged that, in many instances, the supervisory anesthesiologist was in a completely different building and records were falsified to make it appear he was present, O'Connor said.
Moreover, post-operative evaluations were routinely performed by unsupervised or unlicensed medical residents in violation of federal regulations, increasing the likelihood of missing post-operative complications, Cohen said.
The Justice Department based its claims against UCI on the contention it submitted claims for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for inadequately performed anesthesiology services.
For his troubles as a whistleblower, O'Connor is to collect $120,000 of the $1.2 million being paid to the federal government by UCI, Cohen said.
UCI Healthcare released the following statement:
"In 2008, new leadership took over and transformed the UC Irvine Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care. It conducted a top-to-bottom review of the department's operations and enacted new training, policies and practices to guide clinical faculty and staff. New positions such as anesthesia safety officer were created to ensure compliance.
"The department now uses an electronic record-keeping system that does not permit the practices alleged. It remains committed to the highest standards of patient care. The settlement agreement between the University of California Regents and the United States is not an admission of liability. The regents deny all claims."
-- City News Service and Patch staff